Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Issue of Settlements

Yes indeed, the settlements
By Tzvia Greenfield [from Ha'aretz, available in English or the original Hebrew]

Of all the strange things that have happened this peculiar summer, the strangest is the way that oddly assorted elements have lined up to explain to U.S. President Barack Obama why pressure regarding freezing the Jewish settlements in the territories is not the best way to deal with Israel's evasion of implementing the two-state solution.

Beyond the urgent need to internalize that the establishment of a Palestinian state will ensure Israel's salvation as a Jewish and democratic state, it would seem that two facts should be clear to every sensible person. One is that Obama seems to have irrevocably made up his mind that a Palestinian state will be established, even at the price of serious pressure on Israel. The other is that of all the promises he made on the eve of his election, it is most convenient to deal with this one immediately, especially because dealing with it consists at the moment only of pressure on Israel.

It has, after all, become completely clear that it is very difficult to deal with the economic crisis; it is almost impossible to arrive at results regarding Iran; and North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are not child's play either. Obama can be trusted to act in accordance with his political interests without being frightened by Israel's threats.

The fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not understood these basic facts is leading to his inevitable defeat, unless he comes to his senses and brings opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni of Kadima into his government. In the inevitable clash with the United States to which the prime minister and his cabinet are leading us, the result has to be clear in advance: It's the Titanic that will sink, not the iceberg.

Nevertheless, some consolation can be found in the current situation: Obama, after all, is being kind to us. Of all the means at his disposal to push Israel to the negotiating table, the only one that cannot really hurt it in any way is the discussion surrounding construction in the settlements. And would it be better for us if the United States decided to harm Israel's security interests? Is it preferable that the profound relations of friendship and trust between the two countries be damaged?

Of all the issues that Israel insists are important, expanding Jewish settlement in the territories is the only one that has no objective justification apart from the hallucinatory agenda of the settlers and their supporters. On the contrary, stopping it can only be beneficial to advancing peace.

Why then should the Obama administration not pressure Netanyahu on precisely this issue? Only because the right refuses to touch its sacred cows, even though they are harming the interests of us all? After all, the settlements are the excess we will have to get rid of to reach an agreement. Obama is serving our interests in that he is trying to limit the damage we are bringing on ourselves.

And precisely because the settlements really are not important, as many claim, it is in our interest that they, and not more serious issues, bear the price of getting the peace process started.

The United States, with justification and wisely, is not giving in to Israel on this issue, and it appears the Obama administration understands correctly that the real and perhaps only test of Netanyahu's seriousness regarding the two-state plan will be his willingness to end the expansion of the settlements.

If Netanyahu, despite all his speeches, is not able to fulfill this simple requirement - which as noted does no real damage to Israel - it is a sign that it is not in our interest to keep discussing a Palestinian state with him. And it really isn't in our interest for Obama to reach this conclusion.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bibi and Self-Hating Jews

Rahm Emanuel can't get a break. Palestinians and their supporters see him as a Zionist mole inside the White House. The Israeli right-wing, on the other hand, sees him as a traitor. More on how Netanyahu sees Emanuel and fellow Obama advisor David Axelrod in this excellent op-ed from today's Ha'aretz:

What Netanyahu wants from Obama's 'self-hating Jews'
By Akiva Eldar, Ha'aretz [English, Hebrew]

Who is to blame for the latest dispute with the United States over the new neighborhood going up in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah area? Mayor Nir Barkat? Certainly not. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood behind him? Ridiculous. Any child knows that everything is the fault of other Jews: Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, two American administration officials who are inciting President Barack Obama against their own people.

This is not the first time that "self-hating Jews" have given us trouble. In negotiations over the separation of forces agreement in the 1970s, U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger, the scion of a family of Jewish refugees who had escaped from Nazi Germany, earned the anti-Semitic epithet "Jewboy" in Israel. At the end of the 1980s, when president George H.W. Bush dared to argue that the peace process does not jibe with settlement expansion, the Shamir government instigated a campaign against "the 'Jewboy' trio": Dennis Ross, Aaron Miller and Dan Kurtzer. Now it is the turn of Obama's Jewish confidantes to be the scapegoats.

It is easy to imagine what an uproar there would be in Jerusalem if an Arab leader or newspaper dared to claim that an American president was favorable to Israel because of the influence of a Jewish adviser. Netanyahu, who spent many years in the United States, knows very well the extent to which Jewish administration officials in key positions are sensitive to the slightest hint of dual loyalty - to their birthplace and their historic homeland. It turns out that for him, politics bends the iron-clad rule that "all Jews are responsible for one another."

To satisfy the settlers, he permits himself to hurt people whose only sin is that they are trying to promote the goals enshrined in the platform of his senior coalition partner - the Labor Party.

We want our Jews in the administration to be blind to the settlements and deaf to the complaints of the Arabs. Take Elliott Abrams, for example, who was in charge of Middle East affairs in the Bush administration. Abrams, who is identified with the neo-conservative right, made an important contribution to legitimizing a good many dubious Israeli acts. He was an excellent salesman for the "no partner" theory, and the guiding spirit behind the indulgent policy toward the flourishing of settlements. He recently publicly criticized the two-state vision of the president who had hired him, among other things, to promote that vision.

Back during his election campaign Obama made it clear that he did not have to join Likud to be a friend of Israel. Opinion polls in the United States revealed that the views of most Jews are closer to the attitudes of organizations like the Reform movement, American Friends of Peace Now and J Street, which support a two-state solution and eschew Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's doctrine - and above all, largely object to the settlements.

The conversation Obama held with representatives of the Jewish community last week confirms that Netanyahu is drafting them for the wrong war. Even his oldest supporters did not attack the president's position on the settlements, and made do with a complaint about the high profile given to disputes over the issue of natural growth in the settlements. One of the guests at that meeting said that history showed that exposing the differences between the U.S. and Israel does not help to advance peace.

"This was not my reading of the lessons of the last eight years," Obama responded without flinching. Moreover, he said he would not shy away from a willingness to pressure all parties, including Israel, if that is in the best interests of the United States and Israel. Obama did not hesitate to tell his Jewish interlocutors that beyond the special commitment to Israel's security, his policy would be completely even-handed. If it became necessary, Obama said, he would speak to Israelis, as he had done to the Arab and Muslim world, to help them to achieve some kind of self-reflection.

Obama has internalized what his predecessors refused to understand: the traditional supporters of the Israeli right are growing old, or losing their relevance. They are giving way to younger, liberal forces who identify with Obama's values. In the "best" case, Netanyahu's incitement against the "self-hating Jews" will do to them what his whispered comment in the ear of Rabbi Kaduri "those leftists are not Jews" did to Israelis a decade ago - it turned them against him.

In the Interest of Wine and View

"[Israel has to keep the Golan] for strategic, military and land-settlement reasons. Needs of water, wine and view." - Uzi Arad, Benjamin Netanyahu's national security advisor in an interview with Ari Shavit in Ha'aretz.

This is old news already, I know. The interview was published the weekend before last, but I felt I had to mention how ridiculous, dangerous and weird this statement is. It's no better in the original Hebrew ("מסיבות אסטרטגיות, צבאיות והתיישבותיות. צורכי מים, נוף ויין").

I disagree with his assessment that Israel needs the Golan Heights for strategic and military purposes, but I accept it as a legitimate consideration. We'd be safer if we had peace with Syria and no Golan, in my opinion, but those who either don't trust the Syrian regime or don't believe it will last long have some good arguments. Water needs are also an important issue, though I'm sure we can come to a satisfying settlement on this with Syria.

Land-settlement. Now that's where things start to get problematic. Sure, Israel is a small country, but it has plenty of uninhabited lands in the nearby Galilee and especially down south in the Negev. The Golan may be more fertile than the Negev, but since we aren't an agrarian society, it doesn't really matter.

And now for the really outrageous reasons to stay on the Golan. Wine and view. Excuse me? Yes, you heard correctly. Wine and view are more important to Uzi Arad than the lives that may potentially be lost in a future war with Syria. Never mind that peace may also prevent future clashes with Hezbollah. We want out tasty wines and beautiful views!

The Golan is breathtaking and its wines are of high quality. Still, it isn't like Israel proper is an ugly, wineless piece of territory. We'll make do with the wineries of Mount Carmel and the scenery of the rest of Israel, in exchange for peace. Or at least we should. The government and most Israelis seem to disagree with me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Max Blumenthal: Tel-Aviv Edition

Max Blumenthal is at it again, cherry picking who gets into his clip to make sure no reasonable Jewish Israeli makes it on screen, so that Israel can look like a racist Little Satan. Here's the clip, titled "Feeling the Hate in Tel-Aviv", and right below it is the comment to Max I posted on Mondoweiss:

You say yourself that all but two of the Jewish students you interviewed at Tel-Aviv University were part of a counter-protest in support of the Nakbah Law. Sounds like the kind of thing "Im Tirtzu" ("If You Will It"), a right-wing student organization, would arrange. Were any of them by any chance wearing shirts with pictures of early Zionist leaders? They're not exactly a representative bunch.

Also, the date you shot your video is important. When people watch the clip now, after the Iranian people's protests following the June 12 elections, they think the Israelis interviewed are actually talking about regular Iranians. On May 27, the context was completely different. When someone said he didn't like the Iranians, he probably had Ahmadinijad and the Ayatollahs in mind.

I also find it interesting that you found only three "Iran-haters" and two racists at the White Night event. How many Israelis who didn't say anything hateful remain on your cutting room floor?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Forcing Peace

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said Saturday that if Israel and the Palestinians don't reach an agreement on their own by a certain deadline, then the United Nations Security Council should recognize the Palestinian state without Israel's consent. This is a horrible idea. As unhappy as I am with the lack of progress in the peace process, I think the international community can only nudge and push, but it must not impose a solution. Such a solution would be doomed to fail, and I fear it would lead to more bloodshed.

Also, what Palestinian State would the UN recognize? What would be its borders, its capital? What about the Palestinian refugees? Would the international community adopt one side's position on these issues or would it go with something in the middle? How would such a decision be implemented? Would an international force be sent in to drive Israel out of the newly recognized Palestine?

Which Palestinian faction would the United Nations recognize as Palestine's legitimate government? I doubt they'd go with the terrorist group Hamas, so if they recognize Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, what would be the status of Gaza?

This is a horrible, unconstructive idea. I have a feeling even Solana doesn't believe in it and is using it more as a threat against Israel, and Israel alone. It doesn't threaten the Palestinians. No matter what they do and whether they negotiate with Israel or not, they'll end up with a state and probably almost all of their demands will be met by the UN. In fact, Solana inadvertently encourages Palestinian negotiators to stall.

Friday, July 10, 2009

New Feature

I just added a new feature to my blog. It's the Lijit Search widget (or wijit, as they called it). It'll display the search terms that people used to find this site, as well as where in the world people are coming from. You can also search my blog with Lijit, and if you click on "Surprise Me" it'll bring you to a random post.

They say it may take some time before the widget is really effective, because it takes time to collect all the data about all my posts.